The Importance of a Crossfit Off-season
By Luis Lopez
Lately, we have seen a trend or re-emergence made by some of the trendier names in the industry of the idea that you should neglect or put aside off-season work and continue to do “Crossfit” year round. The common thing you’ll hear is that you can work on your aerobic base, or strength, or skills, or whatever weakness you may have, throughout the season, so why stop practicing your sport to focus on those things? While that claim may be true, I would argue that the demands of the crossfit season limit the amount of time one athlete can spend focusing on any given weakness and, therefore, the gains or progress you would have made, will be less than if you had stepped back from the intensities of regular crossfit training to approach the year with a more thought out and periodized program. Besides that, there are other, less obvious reasons why an off-season is beneficial. From a holistic perspective, it is important to have periods that allow our body and mind to relax, step away from constant intensity, and recharge. This opportunity to reflect can be very helpful and energizing to an athlete. You see this in almost every professional sport, at this point, and I believe it is an important step in making progress year to year.
How Long Should an “Off-season” be?
The current crossfit season is set up so that athletes have very different seasons depending on their skill level. An open athlete has a much shorter season than a semi-finals or games athlete and, therefore, has the potential to have a much longer off-season. In general, we recommend a focused off-season of about 3-4 months which allows for a good amount of time for your body to recover, but also to address any weaknesses you may have. That being said, your fitness and competitive levels are going to make this an answer that can vary between athletes.
What should you focus on in your Off-Season?
The focus depends on the specific athlete during their off-season, but as someone that composes competitive Crossfit programs for a monthly subscription blog, I am always trying to identify and prioritize the most common areas of weakness across multiple athlete groups.
When looking at this last year’s season starting from the open all the way through semifinals, we can say that strength played a huge role in separating athletes at all levels. It is becoming very common to see a max strength event every open and at basically every in person competition. This is definitely an aspect of fitness that responds best to being trained as a priority. Training strength in conjunction with a ton of intense conditioning and met-cons is definitely less than ideal, so that makes it a perfect focus for most peoples off-season.
Most athletes also understand the notion of “building their engine”, or focusing on their aerobic capacity. Crossfit is a sport that is, in most part, dominated by athletes with highly efficient aerobic systems. Too often, crossfit training tends to neglect training the aerobic energy system and focuses on the anaerobic energy system instead. Therefore aerobic system work (building capacity, output and threshold) should be another staple of a well thought out off-season.
Lastly, skill development is a huge piece of this puzzle. What makes skill development difficult is that we compete at so many skills in the sport of crossfit. Ask a crossfit athlete which skills they need to work on and you’re going to get an extremely varied list including olympic weightlifting, gymnastics, and other specific movements. It’s impossible to make an off-season program that will address the exact skills needed for everyone (This is where individualized programming becomes useful), but what we can do is focus on some of the underlying tenets of the majority of those skills for everyone. So, that means a focus on simple, strict, foundational gymnastics; ositional and technical work for the olympic lifts and strength movements, and repeated exposure to “crossfit specific” movements in a non-fatigued state.
How will our Off-season be Structured?
Like most periodization, the goal is to start by simplifying and building complexity as we go. This is the case, especially since we are coming off the tail end of the competitive season, so taking a break from complex movements and workouts should be a nice physical and mental break. So, when planning an off-season program, we start with the same tenet, start simple and build complexity. We will be doing this in 3 blocks or phases, but keep in mind that the overall goal is still to focus on the 3 aspects of the off-season that I laid out above:, aerobic system, and skill development.
The first block will focus primarily on true aerobic work. Most of this work will be done in the morning or at least a couple of hours away from your main training session. This aerobic work focuses on building cardiac capacity by spending more time performing zone 2, or aerobic threshold training. There’s a number of reasons why we do this and a number of ways we track it (can be by using heart rate or breathing exercises), but nonetheless, this style of training improves your aerobic threshold; and higher threshold makes for a faster, more enduring athlete at a lower heart rate. This first block will also have you performing a ton of hypertrophy-focused work. Before we truly move into a strength phase, we want to recharge and spend at least 4-6 weeks trying to pack on some muscle. It’s not a coincidence that the top athletes in our sport all look jacked! While having more muscle doesn’t necessarily make you strong, it certainly doesn’t hurt, especially if you’re aerobically fit enough to supply all that muscle with plenty of oxygen.
The second block of training somewhat transitions from the first block and becomes a little complex. Some of your aerobic capacity and threshold work will become lactic capacity and power training. This means that we will begin to focus on power output on the bike and sleds. This will be done in conjunction with a continued focus on Z2/aerobic threshold work. Our hypertrophy work will shift from building muscle to learning how to use it in order to create force. This is where we will see a more focused, strength specific approach to our lifting come into play. Our weightlifting specific work will also increase and we will be performing some positional complexes and technical work. Lastly, our gymnastic and skill development will also continue to focus on foundational movements with a focus on strict work
The third block of training is a transition block. While it is still an off-season block, the goal now becomes to transition athletes to performing full time crossfit in time for the start of the competitive season (usually beginning with WZA qualifiers). While we will still be performing some aerobic threshold work, we will also continue our power output work and we will begin to introduce alactic power and capacity intervals focusing on the ability to create power outburst at high intensity (100% effort sprints!) Our strength work will peak and have us perform 1-3 rep maxes as we look to express our newfound strength. During this block, we will also go back to performing more traditional, sport specific gymnastics and crossfit workouts in preparation for the start of the season
At Team Soul we are firm believers in having a high level of transparency and always communicating with our athletes about the intentions of training. Hopefully this article clears up any confusion and better explains some of the reasons behind our shift in training during the next couple of months and the importance of what we are doing. If you’re looking to take your competitive crossfit career to the next level during this off-season, give our program a shot and sign up here: